Broken Bells

Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

News, new music, videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises.  If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect.  As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.

Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already.  Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.

The team-up between Colbert and Pearl Jam was part of a promotion for Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival, with Stephen helping to host and Pearl Jam closing out the festivities.  One of the highlights of Pearl Jam’s set had to have been Eddie Vedder’s performance with the one and only Beyonce of Bob Marley’s classic song “Redemption Song”, though you may have to search for the video yourself as different versions keep getting deleted.

In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.

Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.

Don Cheadle has a new film about Miles Davis coming out next month, and Vulture has a brief primer on the legendary musician for those who would appreciate some background before seeing the movie.

And finally, be sure to set your DVRs or plan your schedules accordingly, because Austin City Limits announced that they will be taping shows with Kendrick Lamar as well as D’Angelo and the Vanguard in the next few weeks.  Both of those should be memorable performances.


Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2014

Even with our expanded Best-Of list courtesy of The Process, there were still a ton of great albums released last year that were worthy of recognition.  Since we here at Rust Is Just Right are big believers in spreading all good music, we’re going to put a spotlight on some other great records that you may have overlooked from the past year.

Atmosphere – Southsiders.  At this point in their career, you know what you’re going to get with Atmosphere, and for occasional fans that’s perfect.  Slug still comes up with great one-liners, and Ant provides an intriguing, grimy production to back him up.

Biblical – Monsoon Season.  This selection is proof that good things can happen when you show up to see the opening act.  We first caught them when they were touring with Death From Above 1979, and we instantly fell for their version of heavy metal that takes the sensibility of Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon and expands it out to include several rocking solos.  A prog version of Red Fang?  We’re there.

clipping. – CLPPNG.  These guys do a great job of pushing the boundaries of modern rap, though their experimentalism can get the best of them on occasion.  There are several instances on CLPPNG that the abrasiveness becomes oppressive, but then there are plenty of other times where everything coalesces and it just hits.  Throughout the record, MC Daveed Diggs showcased some of the best technique of the past year, displaying an impressive ear for rhythm and deploying some incisive rhymes, with “Story 2” serving as the most prominent example.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!.  This mixture of electronica, jazz, hip-hop, and R&B flows effortlessly from one track to the next and always keeps your attention.  Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on “Never Catch Me” is the highlight, but there is a lot of fun to be had throughout the album.

King Tuff – Black Moon Spell.  A unique mix of glam rock and lo-fi indie, the best moments of this album are some of the most fun rock’n’roll released last year.

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun.  Mastodon continues to evolve and refine their sound, reining in some of their tendencies towards excess with more concise songs but still adventurous enough to seek out some crazy riffs and solos.  In this way, Once More serves as an efficient composite of their previous albums, but also features some of their catchiest riffs yet.

The Roots – …And then you shoot your cousin.  The Roots are so consistently excellent that they are practically the Spoon of hip-hop.  Their latest concept album was overlooked and underrated, and though it suffers from a diminished presence from Black Thought, the record still works even if it leans on more traditional R&B than rap.

Slow Bird – Chrysalis.  They show a good ear for slow builds and pretty melodies, and  one can hear the foundation for future success.

Tweedy – Sukierae.  Who would have thought that Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer would make a good team?  This side project has enough of the charm of his main gig in Wilco, while also offering enough of an alternative that makes it a worthwhile effort.

Walter Martin – We’re All Young Together.  This is the third solo album from a former member of The Walkmen released last year, but since the intended audience was for children there were much lower stakes involved.  However, this is one of those “kids albums” that is just as pleasant for adults, with its effortless easy-going charm.  If you play this for the kids, chances are they will grow up with good taste in music.

Also Worthy of Praise

Broken Bells – After the Disco; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run; D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah; Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita; Eels – The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett; Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways; Parquet Courts – Content Nausea; Sun Kil Moon – Benji; Temples – Sun Structures; tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack.

All Albums That Were Considered

Here is a list of the albums that we listened to last year, in full.  Most of these were quite good and worthy of repeated listens, but they just could not crack the previous lists.  The good news is there were no absolute stinkers this year, though some were weaker efforts from bands that had excelled in the past.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX; Band of Horses – Acoustic at the Ryman; The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation; Circulatory System – Mosaics Within Mosaics; Cold War Kids – Hold My Home; Coldplay – Ghost Stories; Crosses – Crosses; Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots; Dum Dum Girls – Too True; Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons; J Mascis – Tied To A Star; Jack White – Lazaretto; Karen O – Crush Songs; Kasabian – 48:13; Kevin Drew – Darlings; The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers; Philip Selway – Weatherhouse; Pixies – Indie Cindy; Thee Silver Mt. Zion – Fuck Off We Get Free We Pour Light On Everything; Thurston Moore – The Best Day; Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield; We Are Scientists – TV en Francais; Wye Oak – Shriek.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 18 Edition)

Kicking off the week with a ton of new music and exciting news, as summer slowly morphs into fall…

It began with cryptic message from a giant blimp, but it’s official: Aphex Twin is releasing a new album.  Richard James most recently released music as AFX, (with the vinyl-only release of Analord, though a compilation of selected tracks was later sold as an Aphex Twin/AFX release on CD called  Chosen Lords), but even then it’s been a long time since we heard new music from him as those records were last released in 2006.  Syro will be the first Aphex Twin album since 2001’s Drukqs; no word on whether we’ll have any more creepy music videos, but the artwork announcing for the release seems to suggest as much.

Fans of the site should be well-aware of how excited we are for Death From Above 1979’s upcoming reunion, and a warm-up show brought us some additional material to help whet our appetite.  A fan has uploaded another track scheduled to appear from the new album The Physical World, courtesy of a free CD handed out to fans at the show.  “Government Trash” lives up to its name, as the song shows the harder-edged roots of the band, and is a perfect example of trashy punk.

Interpol today gave us another taste of El Pintor with the release of “Ancient Ways”.  It’s an uptempo track that shows that the band is really intent on piling up instruments on top of each other, similar to the style of Interpol, but with some of the edge of their earliest work.

KEXP has been uploading videos from a number of different groups that have stopped by their studios, and they’re definitely worth the time to watch all the way through.  So far I’ve watched Peter Matthew Bauer perform an excellent set with a full cast of backing musicians (which is sure to irk Rick Moody, since it contradicts his point) and Cloud Nothings rip through their latest, and I’m looking forward to checking out the Broken Bells and Wye Oak sets soon enough.

It’s always fun to hear bands talk shit about one another, and Kim Thayil provides quite a bit of it with these recent rips on Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins.

And finally, some sad news as Rick Parashar, a producer and engineer known for his work with the early years in the grunge scene in Seattle died a few days ago.  He helped out with Ten and the Temple of the Dog album among others, a contribution that which we all appreciate very much.

The Danger Mouse File

With the recent release of the new Broken Bells album After the Disco, this is as good a time as any for people to become even more familiar with the different projects of Danger Mouse.  If you’ve listened to music in the last ten years, you’ve come across several songs produced by Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, and more likely than not own at least an album filled with his contributions.

If there is one thing that I can pinpoint as a signature of the Danger Mouse Sound, it’s the idea of the old made new again, or perhaps the retro in a modern context.  This is not done in a showy or bombastic way–at no point in a Danger Mouse song is he calling to the listener’s attention THIS IS AN OLD STYLE/CONCEPT.  There is nothing post-modern about his use of old styles, and certainly no ironic commentary.  He’s not just throwing old records into a blender and spitting out reprocessed old music; you won’t find a dubstep version of a Hollies song, for example.  Though he first got most people’s attention with his Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up The Grey Album, he’s moved well beyond throwing modern beats behind old soul samples. It’s much more subtle, which is why it’s worked so well over multiple iterations. 

There are certain reoccurring elements that can be found in the Danger Mouse sound.  The one that I usually pick up on is a certain bass sound–quick, staccato single notes, and often muted to dampen the sound a bit.  There are also certain idiosyncrasies to his drumming/percussion, namely in his snare sound and his use of the ride cymbal, often matched with a late 50’s/early 60’s rock beat.  And you are also likely to hear certain organ flourishes that give an additional color; it’s usually not a dominant sound, but present enough in the background that it is a significant part of the atmosphere of the song.

Danger Mouse hasn’t just been consistently excellent in the past decade, he’s been quite prolific.  That means there are probably a few albums of his that you haven’t gotten around to listening to, or may not even have known existed.  I mean, I was looking at this list and saw a few albums that I owned that I had no idea he had helped produce.  It could just be confirmation bias speaking, but as I’ve listened to them in writing this article, I keep going, yeah, that definitely has that Danger Mouse sound.

One of those albums is The Good, The Bad & The Queen, which has unfortunately been forgotten about a bit over the years.  It’s the rare super-group album that’s worth listening to (and it definitely is a super-group: Damon Albarn of Blur, Simon Tong of The Verve, legendary drummer Tony Allen, and holy shit Paul Simonon of The Clash).  While each of the component parts are brilliant, they unite to create a singular album that is different than anything else they’ve ever done.

Another overlooked album is the debut of Electric Guest, Mondo.  I’ve heard the single “This Head I Hold” a bit on the local alternative radio station, but it never made much headway nationally.  It very much has the kind of groove found in Danger Mouse’s work with Gnarls Barkley, namely from the bass and from the classic pop-rock drums, just with a different singer.

Speaking of Gnarls Barkley, even though everyone knows their breakout hit “Crazy” and a lot of people picked up their debut album, their follow-up The Odd Couple never caught on like it should.  There was no single track that stood out from the pack like “Crazy” did, but the album was stacked from top-to-bottom with fantastic songs.  “Run”“Going On”, and “Surprise”  were all incredibly fun tracks filled with energy that should pack the dancefloor.  “Blind Mary”  was a bouncy track that managed the difficult task of being positive yet melancholic.  And then there’s the devastatingly heart-breaking ballad, “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?”, with it’s absolutely perfect video.

2008 was an absolutely banner year for Danger Mouse, creatively speaking.  He had three of my top ten albums of that year, an honor that means absolutely nothing to most everyone.  In addition to The Odd Couple, there was his work on Beck’s Modern Guilt and The Black Keys’s Attack & Release, albums which I will argue are among the high points of each artist’s careers.  Beck is of course famous for shifting genres with each album, and he slides in smoothly into the Danger Mouse style.  Beck always had a great touch in finding bits and pieces of old styles and repurposing them in modern contexts, so it should have been no surprise that he and Danger Mouse were simpatico.

The Black Keys were a different story.  They had an easily identifiable trademark sound of ragged two-man blues/rock, and it was unclear how another element could fit in without disrupting that aesthetic.  So often the production touches were at the margins or added for just little bits of color–a perfectly timed organ hit here, a little jazz flute there, etc.  It was enough to push the group into new creative directions and eventually into greater commercial success.  While some may grow tired of how The Black Keys have come to dominate rock radio today, I will always appreciate it when great songs like “Little Black Submarines” come on, even if they ruin some of its beauty by knocking out a whole verse and not allowing the song to properly develop (a rant that I will save for a later day).

It’s a lot better than being constantly subjected to Nickelback.

But perhaps the most interesting entry in the Danger Mouse discography is the project he did with composer Daniele Luppi, entitled Rome.  It’s basically a soundtrack to a fake spaghetti western, and it’s really quite a blast.  The album does a great job of mixing in instrumentals with more traditional “songs”, featuring Jack White and Norah Jones on vocals.  In the end it fulfills the goal of any project like this: it makes you want to see the movie that would have this soundtrack.

If this has done anything, I hope it makes you at least somewhat excited when news of another Danger Mouse release comes out.  And checking the calendar, you should be feeling that in approximately…three months.  Enjoy.

Review: Broken Bells – After the Disco

It’s been amusing to read reviews of the new Broken Bells album, namely the amount of focus that multiple critics place on the name of the record.  It brings to mind memories of middle schoolers putting together slap-dash book reports and riffing as much as they can on the title and back page in their oral presentations.  It makes me wish that I had some social media pull to start a trending hashtag of #CrappyBookReports.  I can understand how certain bands spend a lot of time and effort thinking that the album title really encapsulates what they were going for on the record, but you know, sometimes it’s just a convenient label (and just something taken from a particular song).

So, in other words, I’m not placing much stock in any grand statement in After the Disco.*  Instead, I’m content to enjoy it as a pleasant 45 minute record of mid-tempo rock.  The highs aren’t particularly high, and I wouldn’t say there’s a killer single hidden in the tracklisting somewhere, though “Holding On For Life” was enough of a hook to get me excited to actually buy the album.

One thing that the album does a great job is throwing enough curveballs that seemingly straight-ahead tracks usually in a place that you don’t expect.  It makes for a great listening experience, but hell to figure out which song exactly it was that you were digging.   Opener “Perfect World” starts with a great, motoring groove (almost a disco beat!), and then ends with a great half-time coda that brings the mood back down to Earth (maybe I should give critics more credit–they saw the album title AND listened to the first song).  That said, songs where the tempo picks up like “The Changing Lights” and “Medicine” stand out a bit, but they never fully lift off.  It’s most clear in the song “No Matter What You’re Told”–if there was just a little bit more urgency and just a couple more beats per minute (and a snare sound that was a bit more lively), this would be a great crowd-pleaser.  But the restraint is clearly by design, so it’s difficult to pin all the blame on stylistic choices like that one.

The biggest problem is with the concept of “Broken Bells” itself.  Both James Mercer and Danger Mouse have done excellent work on their own, but the combination of the two is puzzling at first glance, and there’s not really enough in their music to take away any potential doubts.  Mercer already has an authoritative voice in The Shins and is a suitable vehicle for most of his musical ambitions; Danger Mouse has produced great tracks, but he could probably need a stronger vocal presence than Mercer.  The music never really rises above its side-project nature; the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

But there is something to be said for just good music; bands don’t always need to justify themselves.  In that respect, I’m perfectly content on buying Broken Bells albums and will probably continue to do so in the future.

*For the record, I always thought that After the Disco would have been a perfect title for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!